Botanists from Kew Gardens risked their lives in Cambodian jungles littered with unexploded mines to bring back an orchid never before recorded by science.
Researchers had no idea that the orchid, one of 200 plants collected in a former stronghold of the Kymer Rouge, was a new species until it flowered months later in a Kew hothouse. It boasts a pink marble-size flower which was spotted as staff prepared for the annual Alluring Orchids festival which starts tomorrow.
Even now, the region where the flower was collected remains a dangerous place with thousands of mines, booby-traps and other ordinance left over from the Seventies’ war. Moreover, drugs gangs and illegal loggers have moved into the area making it especially hazardous.
The most incredible flowers in the world
The most incredible flowers in the world
1/9 Most poisonous
Most flowers are known for their beauty or fragrance – but some obtain their notoriety by shadier means. With an unassuming nickname like ‘Lily of the Valley’, you might think that Convallaria Majalis was harmless – it certainly looks it, with its charming bell-shaped droops – but this flower, native to Europe, North America and parts of Asia, is incredibly dangerous, secreting poisonous toxins which can be fatal. Common symptoms following exposure to Convallaria Majalis include nausea, vomiting, severe headaches and a slowed heart beat – so it’s no surprise that this deadly plant made its way into the public’s consciousness when arch-villain Walter White used it to poison a child in the hit show Breaking Bad. Mark this flower under ‘one to avoid’!
2/9 The rarest
The ‘Ghost Orchid’ is actually less harmful than it sounds. This delicate flower was believed to be extinct until it was re-discovered in recent years and can only be pollinated by one species of insect indigenous to the local area, making it one of the rarest flowers in the world. Finding this flower might prove difficult – it’s mainly found in remote Cuban forests, and only for two months of the year – but it has recently been discovered in the Everglades, so if you’re willing to make a detour while sunning yourself on the beaches of east-coast USA, this flower is well worth the journey thanks to its stunning appearance and gorgeous, sweet fragrance.
3/9 Most carnivorous
Plenty of flowers across the world have been known to catch prey – there are many water-based plants which feed off small insects and fish – but the Nepenthes, also known as the Monkey Cup, takes things to the next level. This large plant is native to China, India, Australia, Borneo and Malaysia among other locations (if you’re feeling brave, the most tourist-friendly places to see it are the Seychelles and the Philippines, where it grows freely), can grow up to 15m tall and contains a sticky fluid which can drown its prey. Unbelievably, this genus has been known to trap and digest rats and other small mammals – making it a shoe-in for the top spot in this category.
4/9 The largest
If you want to see some serious flower power, you might want to travel to the south of India to see the Talipot palm. With its gigantic size (these monsters can grow up to more than 25ft) and tree-like appearance, you could be forgiven for thinking that this isn’t a flower at all – but it is technically a flower, albeit one that blooms off of tiny branches rather the main stalk. This stunning genus towers above everything around it, so it shouldn’t be easy to spot if you find yourself in India.
5/9 Most terrifying
OK, so we’ve established that there are plenty of species of flower that can deliver lethal doses of poison, and a couple that can catch and kill small mammals – but the Devil’s Breath might just top them all when it comes to the fear factor. These modest-looking blooms grow openly in the streets of Bogota, the capital of Colombia, so you might think they are innocent enough – don’t be fooled. The list of effects this flower has been known to induce include hallucinations, seizures, anaphylactic shock, arrhythmia and, most terrifyingly of all, a zombie-like effect rendering the affected person entirely compliant and unable to retain memories – leading to criminal gangs dosing unsuspected stooges with this flower and using them as surrogate criminals to do their bidding.
Murder detectives often say that the worst part of their job is the smell of a de-composing body, claiming that the stench hits the nostrils and never leaves. With that in mind, consider the Corpse Flower. Found in much of south-east Asia, this rare flower’s name comes from its horrendous odour, similar to that of rotting flesh. The Corpse Flower is unusual in that it has no body, stem, leaves or roots, surviving entirely on its vines, so if you get the chance to see one, it will certainly be worth it – just as long as you make sure to keep your distance! If you do want to track this bewitching beast down, your best bet is probably making your way to Surat Thani in the south of Thailand – you can enjoy the dubious charms of this flower in the wild, not too far from popular nightlife hotspots Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan.
7/9 Strangest looking
There are many beautiful flowers in the world, but what about those that are somehow entrancing without necessarily being attractive in a conventional sense? You can’t help but love the Dracula Simia, native to parts of South America. Take one look at this loveable chap and you won’t be surprised to hear that it is commonly known as the Monkey Orchid. We’ve no idea how bearing a resemblance to a cartoon chimp provides an evolutionary benefit, but if you’re ever in the forests of south-eastern Peru, this little charmer has to go on the itinerary.
8/9 The ugliest
We’re not sure why you’d travel the globe to see the world’s most unfortunate looking flower, but whatever your floats your boat – the Welwitschia Mirabilis, indigenous to Namibia, is the ugly duckling of the flora kingdom, with an appearance that is somewhere between ‘burning embers’ and ‘alien reptile’ – but that really is the flower in full bloom! This flower’s personality isn’t much better than its appearance – it’s a carnivore which traps insects in its leaves – so you’ll need plenty of other attractions on your to-do list to make this one worth seeing.
9/9 Most beautiful
Possibly the most hotly-contested award is that of most beautiful flower – we all have our favourites, from the gorgeous fuchsia that grows in your garden with its beautiful ballet dancer droplets to the exotic flame lilies of Africa. But surely the most stunning of all flowers is the unforgettable Bleeding Heart. Native to East Asia (if you want to see this captivating species we’d recommend making it part of your itinerary on trips to China and Japan – it’s also found in Siberia and North Korea, but that might prove somewhat tricky!), these spectacular pink and white, heart-shaped flowers are almost too perfect to be true, as if they’ve been designed by a card company to perk up sales around Valentine’s Day!
The 700sq km area where the orchids were collected in the Cardamom Mountains remains so dangerous – and the scientific facilities are so limited – that experts from Kew were given permission to take plants collected from the jungle back to Britain to be identified.
Researcher André Schuiteman said: “The area isn’t very well known to botanists. We had to have a local guide to keep us safe – you daren’t go there alone.
“We had to have armed guards because there are drug gangs operating there. There are also illegal loggers in the region and if you stumble across them they can be aggressive.”
Among the samples taken and kept safe at Kew as experts waited for them to bloom – once in flower, the type of orchid can be identified – were 20 species that had been seen elsewhere but never before in Cambodia and one that was entirely new to science.
It came into flower a few weeks before Christmas and while it comes from the Porpax genus it has yet to be named.
About half the 200 plants collected on the expedition, which took place in 2013, have now come into flower.
Mr Schuiteman said that plant-collecting expeditions typically only find about 20 per cent of the species in a region so it is quite possible that there are more discoveries to be made – and even that the remaining specimens still to flower at Kew could include other unknown species.